The media has been ablaze with the story of a strong signal from space detected by a team of Russian astronomers last spring that the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute recently trained their telescopes on to attempt to detect. However, despite the hype, scientists are not hopeful that this was a message from E.T.
The attention on the Russian discovery began on August 27, 2016 with an article on a website called Centauri Dreams. It is ran by an amateur astronomer, Paul Gilster, who writes about peer-reviewed research on deep space exploration.
Gilster claimed he recently received a document that was being circulated by Aelxander Panov, a Physicist at Lomonosov Moscow State University. The document details the discovery of “a strong signal in the direction of HD164595″using the RATAN-600 radio telescope in the village of Zelenchukskaya, in the Karachay–Cherkess Republic of Russia on May 15, 2015.
Gilster points out, “No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study.”
SETI scientists agreed and began further study on the possible signal, while the media set to tell the world about the potential signal from an extraterrestrial civilization.
On August 29, Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute, wrote an article to clarify their view on the signal and to outline the steps they were taking to investigate. He wrote: “the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) was swung in the direction of HD 164595 beginning on the evening of August 28.” However, thus far, they have not been able to detect a signal. He explained the RATAN-600 radio telescope was capable of detecting a much broader bandwidth, so it would take more time for the Allen Array to scan the entire band.
Shostak also pointed out some interesting notes about the signal’s detection and the nature of HD 164595. He explained, “[HD 164595 is] a solar system a few billion years older than the Sun but centered on a star of comparable size and brightness.” It does have a Neptune-sized planet, but the planet has too tight of an orbit to likely be capable of hosting life, as we know it.
According to Shostak, even if the signal were sent by an extraterrestrial civilization in HD 164595, if the signal was broadcast everywhere for anyone in any direction to hear, it would require hundreds of times the amount of energy that falls on Earth from our sun to send. Even if the signal is being directed straight at Earth, it would still require an amount of energy “comparable to the total energy consumption of all humankind.”
“Both scenarios require an effort far, far beyond what we ourselves could do, and it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to target our solar system with a strong signal. This star system is so far away they won’t have yet picked up any TV or radar that would tell them that we’re here,” says Shostak.
The manner in which the Russians went about revealing their findings also concerned Shostak. The SETI protocol is to alert others in the SETI community immediately if a potential extraterrestrial signal is detected so that others can attempt to train their telescopes on the area and confirm the signal. Instead, they waited more than a year to share information about the signal.
However, recent information may suggest the Russians never suspected the signal was extraterrestrial in the first place. The SETI project which captured the signal is ran by the Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics of Lomonosov Moscow State University along with the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SAO RAS). Telescope researcher Yuri Sotnikova of SAO RAS posted an official comment on the signal on their website. She says, although an “interesting radio signal” was detected, “subsequent processing and analysis of the signal revealed its most probable terrestrial origin.”
She continued, “As for the other objects of the RATAN-600 survey, it is too early to claim about any reliable scientific results. Using the obtained measurements, we are only able to estimate the upper limit of the detection of the studied areas. It can be said with confidence that no sought-for signal has been detected yet.”
In their story regarding Sotnikova’s comments, the TASS Russian News Agency interviewed Alexander Ipatov, Director of the Institute of Applied Astronomy at RAS, regarding a signal detected during a similar program conducted in the Soviet-era.
“We, indeed, discovered an unusual signal. However, an additional check showed that it was emanating from a Soviet military satellite, which had not been entered into any of the catalogs of celestial bodies,” Ipatov told TASS.
This statement has lead to some confusion, as some have reported that this comment was regarding the signal discovered in May, 2015, but, of course, the was long after the Soviet-era, so it seems Ipatov was referring to a different signal.
Shostak has updated his article regarding their findings at the Allen Array. They were not able to find a signal coming from HD 164595. He also noted in his original article that the Russians only found the signal once in 39 tries.
Although this one does not seem to be the message we are looking for, in a short YouTube video released by the SETI Institute yesterday (seen below), Shostak tried to reassure his fellow alien hunters. He told viewers, “No detection yet, but you can’t always be cynical. If a signal looks promising, we are going to check it out.”